Resurrection, Teleportation, And Cloning For Pianists
On this May 19th, in North Carolina, USA, a critically acclaimed Canadian pianist will perform one of his signature pieces, Bach's Goldberg Variations, last performed in 1955. But the catch is, the artist, Glenn Gould will not attend the recital. It's not that he doesn't want to. He can't. He died October 4th, 1982.
Instead, his signature 1955 performance will be re-produced by a robotic piano using a computerized play routine coaxed from an ancient recording to a degree of accuracy which was, until a year ago, thought to be impossible.
Zenph studios, which bills itself as having one of the finest performance spaces and the most advanced recording technology in the world, is responsible for this feat of death cheating. Their process is impressive.
First, an original recording is digitized at the highest possible quality. Then, their custom-designed software then models the exact combination of pedal, hammer velocity and impact angle, and timing needed to produce each note in the song. They claim their system is so robust that line noise, voices, or singing have no effect. The software records this data in a special MIDI format file which has 7 times the descriptive variables and 10 times the resolution of a standard MIDI file. Then, this file is "performed" by a Yamaha Disklavier PRO Grand piano. Unlike the "roboplayers" you may have heard in Malls and Restaurants, this machine has orders of magnitude more precise movement and sensing, as well as separate CPUs for pedal and keyboard movement.
All this pulls together to deliver the impossible: Zenph claims that their system reproduces the actual performance of the musician, past the level of precision that the human ear can detect.
The reproduction is so perfect that re-performance isn't the only thing the setup is good for. Great pianists travel to Zenph's studio just to record themselves on the piano, and then have it replayed while sitting in various places around the auditorium. Having never heard yourself play like this, it can be a very moving experience. The robotic piano is so precise that artists record pieces into memory and return later with sound engineers to turn that program into sound.
The implications for these technologies are exciting. Obviously, there are fears of misuse in the same ways that MP3 technologies have altered the recorded music industry. But like MP3, there are powerful benefits as well. Imagine artists performing in-absentia through a recording piano, into a concert hall in another country or continent. Or, extending that idea, why not performing multiple simultaneous concerts, like a streaming music file online. This type of "artist cloning" might lead to a greater audience for classical music as the need for a high-flying venue to attract the artist, and therefore, high-flying prices, come down.
Even more interesting will be the artists who, like Wilco and others with MP3, embrace this as a powerful tool rather than a menace. How amazing would it be to watch a three part piano piece performed by one person, from one keyboard, and filled in by improvisation by either pre-recorded routines, or computer programs which took their cues from the central artist's playing.
Pushing even further, how can you incorporate this sort of disembodiment of performance in your products? Aren't aspects of baking, cleaning, washing a window, or giving a backrub similar to performing a concerto? There is some bit of inspiration in this surprising method for taking a recording of a person's work, extracting the emotions, inflections, and nuances, and re-creating it for others to enjoy.
Maybe you can find it.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team